Tag Archives: beatitudes

The world does not want to cry

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Happy are those who weep, for they will be consoled.


Pope Francis, in Gaudete et Exsultate, 75-76, notes how the world wants to avoid crying at all costs. We seek diversions to escape from the pains and the sorrows around us. Not only do we seek to escape pain with medicine, drugs, and alcohol. We try to ignore the pain: Don’t worry; it will pass. We want to deny the suffering.

As Pope Francis says,

“The world has no desire to mourn; it would rather disregard painful situations, cover them up or hide them. Much energy is expended on fleeing from situations of suffering in the belief that reality can be concealed.”

We want a life without the cross. “But the cross can never be absent.” When we let the pain of others penetrate our hearts, we become “capable of touching life’s depths and finding authentic happiness.” We let the pain tear our hearts apart – opening them to the healing power of a God of love, who suffers with us.

Pope Francis is eloquent:

Those who open themselves to weep “are unafraid to share in the suffering of others; they do not flee from painful situations. They discover the meaning of life by coming to the aid of those who suffer, understanding their anguish and bringing relief. They sense that the other is flesh of our flesh, and are not afraid to draw near, even to touch their wounds. They feel compassion for others in such a way that all distance vanishes.”

In such situations we learn and live what the English poet John Donne wrote in Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions*:

“No man is an island, entire of itself. Each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thine own, or of thine friend’s were. Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

Sharing in the pain as Christ became human and shared in our pain is not easy. But I find that when I face the pain and others and try to be present – sometimes in silence, sometimes with an embrace – then I feel the power of God’s love among us, comforting us. In this way the distances between us, even the distances between enemies can be breached.

And even more.

“Knowing how to mourn with others: that is holiness.”

*  Please excuse the non-inclusive language.

Blessing those who mourn

Blessed, filled with joy, are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

In the beatitudes, Jesus does not let us rest secure. Mourning is a place of blessing. How counter-cultural and counter-intuitive.


Today I recall those killed in a Pittsburgh synagogue about a week ago. But I also recall the deaths we experience here in Honduras – from poverty, from lack of medical care, from violence engendered by the lack of a functioning justice system or from alcoholism or misuse of alcohol.

As a deacon I have accompanied a number of funerals. It is not easy, but they often are for me times of grace.

People often need to be given a place to mourn, to let their pain, their wound, be healed by the light of day and the presence of loved ones. I never tell people not to mourn.

I hope, though, to offer them a place where they can experience the comfort of God – in the hope of the resurrection and in the love of those around them.

One of the passages of the Bible that sustains me in the midst of all the pain and death I see is this passage from Revelations 21:4, which is a citation from Isaiah 25:8:

He will wipe every tear from their eyes…

If I can be there to wipe the tears from their eyes, sharing in their pain and suffering, maybe God can make of me an instrument of his comfort.

Saints and the spirit of the poor

Blessed are the poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

When I tried to think of holy men and women who exemplified poverty of spirit and even actually poverty, I found myself overwhelmed by the vast majority of saints who exemplified this virtue. But today I want to mention two holy women and a man.


Today is the feast of Saint Martin de Porres, a Dominican lay-brother who lived in Lima, Perú. Born of a Spanish nobleman and a freed black woman, he was disinherited by his father. Trained as a barber and a surgeon, he entered the Dominicans. There he served in the most humble task but soon his gifts of healing were recognized. But he also cared for the poor and sick outside the Dominican friary. He would bring them to his cell and care for them. But his superior ordered him to stop this practice. When Martin continued caring for the poor in his cell and was reprimanded, he responded: “Forgive my mistake, and please be kind enough to instruct me. I did not know that the precept of obedience took precedence over that of charity.”

He was truly, as his contemporaries noted, a “father of the poor.”

The second saint I thought of was Saint Clare of Assisi. Though she was from a rich family, she followed Christ, in the footsteps of Saint Francis, much to the consternation of her family. She was soon followed by other women who lived together by the church of San Damiano outside Assisi. These “Poor Ladies” sought to live in poverty – by the works of their hands and begging. They did not want to take up the practice of benefices and property that many convents of nuns had. She fought for this all her life and only shortly before death did she received confirmation from the pope for the Privilege of Poverty.

She not only advocated poverty but lived it. When the sisters came back from begging, she would wash their feet.


The third exemplar of poverty is not yet officially canonized, though Pope Francis spoke highly of her before the US Congress when he visited the US. Dorothy Day started out living a radical and bohemian life, but a life committed to justice. After her conversion, she sought to find a way to live out her faith and her commitment to the poor. After meeting Peter Maurin, they formed the Catholic Worker, first of all starting out with a newspaper. Later, they welcomed the poor. Catholic Worker houses of hospitality still dot the US landscape, serving the poor and marginalized in many ways.

Meditating on the lives of these three holy people of God, we may be able to discover how we ourselves may be called to live out the beatitude of the poor in spirit.

Where is our security

“Being poor of heart: that is holiness.”
Pope Francis

cross-foucauldIn his apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate – Rejoice and Be Glad, Pope Francis devotes a large section to reflections on each of the beatitudes.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”

The opening line of his reflection (67) sets the tone: “The Gospel invites us to peer into the depths of our heart, to see where we find our security in life.”

The question is: Where do we find our security?

If it is in wealth, we will fall apart and feel totally meaningless when it is threatened or when we find ourselves stretched financially. I dare say that this may be one of the problems rampant in the United States today and so the other, the migrant, is perceived as a threat.

Wealth can bring self-satisfaction, warns Pope Francis, so much so that “we leave no room for God’s word, for the love of our brothers and sisters, or for the enjoyment of the most important things in life. In this way, we miss out on the greatest treasure of all” (68).

But if we have a poor heart, “the Lord can enter with his perennial newness.”

As one formed in the spirituality of St. Ignatius Loyola, Pope Francis links this beatitude with “holy indifference.” Citing St. Ignatius, he cites part of paragraph 23 of the Spiritual Exercises:

“…it is necessary to make us indifferent to all created things, in regard to everything which is left to our free will and is not forbidden, in such a way that, for our part, we not seek health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, a long life rather than a short one, and so on in all other matters, wanting and choosing only that which leads more to the end for which we are created.”

If our end is love – praising, reverencing, and serving God – then all is put into perspective and we can face everything, confident in the security of a loving God.

“Being poor of heart: that is holiness.”


The translation of paragraph 23 Spiritual Exercises is by George E. Ganss, S.J., as cited in The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times by the late Father Dean Brackley, S.J.

The joy of the poor in the reign of God

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
Joyful are those who have the spirit of the poor
For theirs is the Reign of God,
For the Kingdom of God belongs to them.


Unlike all the other beatitudes but the last, the second clause is in the present tense. They won’t have the kingdom in the future. It’s there’s now.

That seems so contrary to the facts of life.

The kingdom belongs to the powerful, the mighty, the violent, the rich. How could the kingdom ever belong to the poor in spirit – or, even as Luke puts it, to the very poor? How could it be a blessing to be poor in spirit? How could one who is poor in spirit be joyful?

But that’s what Jesus says.

What could he ever mean?

I don’t think he believes that the destitute are happy; I think he wants to welcome them into his reign, to sit at the banquet table with him.

I think he wants us to be poor, or, at the very least, austere in our living.

I think he wants us to accompany the poor, not just helping them, but being with them in their times of sorrow and pain –  and joys.

I think he wants us to join the poor in their struggles for justice so that we can move toward a world in which the presence of the kingdom of justice and love and peace is more apparent, especially for those at the margins.

I think he wants us to sit down at table with the poor – at the tables in their homes and ours, and above all at the banquet table of the Eucharist, where there are no divisions, but where we are all one in Christ, sharing afflictions and consolations, joys and sorrows, disappointments and hope, where the final word is not death but life and love and resurrection.

Maybe then we can experience the joy of the poor and of the poor in spirit, where the Kingdom of God is present.


All the saints

As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the most powerful moments for me when I was ordained was lying prostrate during the litany of saints.


As I lay there, I felt myself surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses – interceding for me and offering me examples of the love and mercy of God which I felt called to follow in a special way by being an ordained deacon – and not just an occasional servant. But this communion of saints includes not only those who are acknowledged by the church; nor does it only include those who has passed from this life; we are living in the midst of the saints, the “holy” people of God who struggle to live lives of mercy and faithfulness.

Today the Gospel is Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes and I’d like to recall some of the “saints” who have inspired me – some living, some gone to be among the saints in the heavenly presence of God.

Blessed are the poor in spirit

Two couples who are trying in the midst of jobs to live as families who are open to the poor and to the demands of justice.

Blessed are those who mourn

Two friends who recently lost premature twins and have shown such great faith and tranquility but still experience the loss.

Blessed are the meek

Gentle-spirited Juan Ángel Pérez, a thirty-one year old delegate of the Word in a poor community, who died a few weeks ago.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice

Blessed Monseñor Oscar Romero, the Salvadoran archbishop who found himself more and more taking up the cause of the poor and was martyred at the altar for his identification with the poor.

Blessed are the pure of heart

The Franciscan sisters I know and work with in Honduras who are examples of committed wisdom who “will one thing” – the presence of a loving God in the midst of the poor.

Blessed are the peacemakers

Servant of God Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker, who lived among the poor and sought peace and justice for the poor.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for the cause of justice

Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian peasant with a wife and family who refused to serve in Hitler’s army, and was imprisoned and beheaded for his faithfulness to a God of life.

Woe to the rich, according to Chrysostom

Two days ago we heard in the beatitudes of Luke’s Gospel the strange words: “Blessed are you who are poor…. Woe to you who are rich.”

Today’s saint, John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople and Father of the Church, took these words seriously and his sermons and writings provide challenging commentaries on poverty and riches.

I doubt that few preachers would get away with what he said. In fact, he was twice sent into exile, dying during the second exile.

As I see it, for Chrysostom the two major sins of the wealthy  were the unjust appropriation of wealth (which he called fraud) and the refusal to share.

For him, riches were given to humans to steward, for the good of all.

Thus, “…not to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life; we do not possess our own wealth but theirs.”

Not sharing one’s possessions with the poor is not just a failure of charity; it is, according to Chrysostom theft: “When we do not show mercy, we will be punished, just like those who steal.”

Wealth is meant to be spread around and failure to do so is sinful:

those who have something more than necessity demands and spend it on themselves instead of distributing it to their needy fellow servants, they will be meted out terrible punishments. For what they possess is not personal property; it belongs to their fellow servants.

But Chrysostom was not content to call on the rich to share with the poor. They also had to be just.

I do not ask you mercifully to render from what you have plundered, but to abstain from fraud…. For unless you desist from robbery, you are not actually giving alms. Even though you should give ever so much money to the needy, if you do not desist from your fraud and robbery you shall be numbered by God among the murderers.

This was not class warfare. As Chrysostom said, “I do not say these things simply to accuse the rich or praise the poor. For it is not wealth that is evil, but the evil use of wealth. Nor is poverty good, but the use of poverty.”

Chrysostom reminds us, as did many of the Fathers of the early church, that we are called to be one community of love, sharing with each other, so that, as it was said of the early community, “there are no poor among us.”

For this we need changes, personally and socially, we need charity and justice. And above all we need to go beyond a sense of entitlement to a sense of community, belonging to each other.

As Chrysostom said:

For “mine” and “thin” – those chilly words which introduce interminable wars into the world – should be eliminated from that holy Church… the poor would not envy the rich because they are rich. Neither would the poor be despised by the rich, for there would be no poor. All things would be in common.

Chrysostom’s words may seem unrealistic – but they should give us pause to contemplate how far are we – personally, as members of the Church, and as citizens of our nations – from the will of God.


The quotes from Chrysostom are taken from St. John Chrysostom, On Wealth and Poverty (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984) and Charles Avila, Ownership: Early Christian Teaching (Orbis Books, 1983)